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Old 08-08-2009, 07:32 PM   #1
Dr. Drib
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Review: Ectaco jetBook - A Hands-On Commentary With Expressed Opinions

Ectaco jetBook – A Hands-On Commentary With Expressed Opinions

Dr. Drib

This is a review of the jetBook Reader. Here, I will offer my experiences and opinions – both positive and negative - with this Reader. If you dislike reading strong opinions expressed in a forthright way, then I suggest very strongly that you visit another Forum area that best suits your personality-type, or move on and read something else.

This Isn’t Your Grandmother’s Screen
The jetBook, for the uninitiated, does not use e-ink but rather a high-resolution monochrome TFT screen as its 5” display. In my opinion, this display is not quite as clear as e-ink technology, but nonetheless it is quite legible and very enjoyable to read on, one offering an alternative to the current dominance of e-ink technology. It is not backlit, but does not need to be backlit in order to read from the screen. This is a very enjoyable screen, one that has a different “look” than e-ink. (However, I DO wish that a backlit jetBook could be made available, as I like to read in bed with the lights low and often find myself in low-light situations.)

Price That Sucker!
The price I paid for this (while visiting the U.S.) was $159.00 plus tax. This was 20% off the normal retail price. Shipping was free to my residence in the U.S. I purchased it at Bed Bath and Beyond (BBB). BBB does NOT carry this in the stores in Arkansas; it must be ordered. Whether that is true of other states, I have no idea. Shortly after paying for it, I received an email telling me that it would be approximately 2 weeks before it arrived. I had been told differently at BBB; told in fact, that it would be about 4 or 5 days. Distraught, I wrote an email to BBB, telling them that I would only be in the country for a few more days. They promptly emailed me back and said that their email was only a form letter, and that shipments usually take one week and often much less to arrive.

The jetBook arrived on time, as promised by the sales clerk at BBB and reiterated through my email correspondence.

Plug It In, Stupid!
Right out of the box it wouldn’t turn on, perhaps due to a low battery charge, so I plugged it in and turned it on to see what it looked like. I was impressed by the responsiveness of the unit. I let it charge for a number of hours. I checked back after a few hours to find that it was apparently still charging. There appears to be nothing that tells one when the charge is completed. I unplugged it after a few more hours and started to play with it. (It appeared to be fully charged by that time; but again, there was no indication that this was in fact the case.)

Mmmm: I Like Your Form-Factor!
The form factor of this Reader is extraordinary and is a joy to hold and to use. I’ll sometimes choose this over my Sony 505 or Kindle 2 while lying in bed and wanting something to read. Often, while in my most comfortable chair, I’ll settle back with the jetBook, due to the lightness of the unit, and feel perfectly comfortable from a non e-ink device. However, competition is heating up and 5” displays are becoming an accepted norm, especially for the convenience that this form factor offers. jetBook may have to reassess their market strategy and pricing for the unit to be competitive with the onslaught of 5” e-ink devices soon to appear in the marketplace.

Just The facts, Ma’am
The jetBook supports these READING file types: PRC, mobi, TXT, PDF, fb2, ePub, html and RTF. (pdf, as in most Readers of this size, is simply a joke. Avoid pdf at all costs in any Reader of this size; it is simply not practical. It does not read DRM’d files. The jetBook comes with quite a large number of public domain ebooks already loaded onto the Reader and they are easily located in labeled Folders. These were all txt files (on the Reader) and all of them (that I tested) opened quickly and without mishap.

There’s a Great Future In Plastics!
jetBook’s file structure is impressive, intuitive and easy to understand, while the controls on the Reader are easily navigable – with this one exception: The left side has a “slider” up/down plastic controller that moves the pages forward/backward. It’s awkward to use and feels very vulnerable for continued use. Fortunately, at the lower left of the Reader is another set of forward/backward controls that are much better thought out. The Reader itself is a solid-feeling hard plastic that looks great and feels great in the hands. It comes with a nice, but plain-looking, case that seems to hold the Reader very snugly and safely from daily impacts. The rest of the buttons have a good, solid feel to them and are a pleasure to use.

The jetBook sports an SD card slot that will accept up to 2 Gigs of storage. (Only recently, I read from another post here at MobileRead that the jetBook can handle much more than this. This information has yet to be confirmed by Ectaco.) The jetBook itself has 128 megs of internal rom storage. Simply plug the supplied USB cord into your computer and the internal memory comes up as a disk drive, where one can see three folders. Click on Documents, and you will see the folder names that contain the public domain books supplied by jetBook. The selection of these supplied books is quite varied and can be read immediately (if that is one’s inclination) after first charging your Reader, of course. (I feel this is a very big selling point: Get the Reader up and running and start reading seems to be a very positive business plan.) If you have an SD card inserted into the jetBook, then this appears as another disk drive on your computer.

Page-turning is practically instantaneous. (The jetBook is somewhat slower now that I’ve flashed the Beta firmware upgrade onto the Reader. I’ll speak more on this topic later in this Review.)

Fonts! Fresh Fonts!
Two fonts are available: Ariel and Verdana, in six different point sizes from 12 pt. – 32 pt. In my opinion, they are not the most attractive fonts, but they quite serviceable as reading fonts.

I’m A Control Freak!

For the first week, I used the supplied firmware, v30,Ph(?) [now deleted from the Reader, due to upgrading the firmware.] As mentioned, I looked at almost every TXT file already available on the Reader and was quite surprised at the responsiveness of the unit. I then played with the screen attributes, such as font sizes, alignment [justification, left justified], bookmarking, jumping [going to a specific page], rotating, and was impressed with the thoughtfulness and ease of use built into the firmware. I decided not to examine the “Auto Turn Page,” as that is something that doesn’t interest me. For the same reason, I have yet to play around with the MP3 player, as I already own a very excellent iPod. These features may interest you, but they have no bearing in this Review. I was less impressed by the Dictionary function. It seems clunky and much less elegant an implementation than the one on my Kindle 2.

When one is outside a file (in other words, not reading), one can press the Menu button and be able to access more general controls, such as Deleting a selected book, in addition to other file activities, although certain aspects of this level of control is duplicated within the file one is reading. (In all fairness, I am reporting now upon the Beta firmware that is currently on my jetBook; I can’t remember if this was the case with the previous firmware.) In my opinion, this duplication seems less well-thought-out than it could be. Why this level of redundancy is available or needed, I don’t know. For example: outside AND inside the file, one can jump to a certain page number. I don’t recall what page numbers I’m on when reading; rather, I bookmark the page.

Hola! Fresh Firmware!
A few days ago, the new Beta firmware became available. Because I was so pleased with my jetBook, I hesitated upon installing this. After much agonizing, I decided to go ahead and do so. The process of flashing new firmware onto the device is very complicated and cumbersome and could do with a complete overhaul, in my opinion. Apparently, from reading other posts (at MobileRead), I am not alone in feeling this way.

Something’s Fishy
After the update, I loaded my backup TXT files back onto the Reader and opened one. Surprise: Paragraphs no longer existed. I had one big lump of spaghetti text – totally unreadable. I tried over a dozen different files, all with the same result.

I was curious about the problem with the TXT files, since this was an important selling point for me when I initially decided to buy this unit. I promptly removed all the files and saved them back to my computer. Then I went to Gutenberg and downloaded one TXT file and loaded it onto the Reader – this is as simple as cut/paste into the jetBook’s memory. I then opened it and THERE WAS NO PROBLEM! Now very curious, indeed, I selected a series of stories by Henry James, Charles Dickens, and other writers and then loaded those onto the Reader. They all worked perfectly.

Justify This!
Another big problem with the update occurred when I noticed that my Alignment [justification] would not stick. Again, I tried this on about a dozen TXT files. It would not stay justified. However, I did eventually correct this problem, but I don’t remember the sequence of events. At that point, I simply wanted the older firmware back on the jetBook. I think I was OUTSIDE the file, when I successfully did something to make the justification stick.

At that point, I posted onto MobileRead and informed the numerous jetBook members there that I had encountered two very displeasing bugs (although one had been solved.) At this point, I must point out to everyone, that this update is a Beta update. There will be Patches to correct these things.

JetBook maintains, on its site, a list of the same titles pre-installed on the Reader. I was concerned about the books on their site if someone tried to download them. The solution to this major TXT problem is to temporarily remove these books from the Reader and store them on your computer or SD card for later use, once a new Patch is available. Equally elegant, simply download the titles from Gutenberg and/or download the books in a different format, if it’s available.

I tested RTF, mobi, prc and ePub and have had no problems with these formats. All work great on the jetBook.

Some Future Wishes
Chapter links are not available on the jetBook. This can be especially disconcerting with Omnibus editions where there are many novels in one file. Going to the second novel in a series of 4 books is not very practical.

Cover images sometimes do and do not show up. For example: The Time Axis, by Henry Kuttner (not my lrf version, but the ePub version) shows a screenful of image, but not the entire image. The Stanley G. Weinbaum Omnibus edition (also available at Mobile Read) shows a screenful of image, but it’s not the entire image.

What!? No replaceable battery. Something tells me this unit will last longer than my two e-ink devices. The jetBook is built THAT good.

Get rid of that cheap-feeling plastic slider and replace it with a design that approximates the two buttons on the bottom left of the unit.

I would love to see .lit implemented on this Reader. It would certainly solve a lot of issues I have with my older, but still viable, .lit library.

A Very Big Bug, And I’m Not Talking About Gregor Samsa!
(Forgive me, but I just finished reading The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka, on my jetBook; hence, the reference to Gregor Samsa. This is a great novelette when I first read it 30 years ago, and is just as enjoyable now as it was then.)

I recently discovered what may be the biggest problem with the new software. I verified that this specific mobi file displays correctly on my computer and on my Kindle 2, but on the jetBook some words are dropped. They’re simply missing. Please remember, I am NOT talking about missing words from non-DRM’d mobi files. I am referencing a novel that I legally purchased. Let me give the full background on this:

I’m a huge fan of Literary Fiction and recently purchased The Royal Family, by William Vollmann. I purchased it in .lit and then shifted it over to mobi so that I could load it onto my Kindle 2, where it looks and reads great. I then copied/pasted this EXACT SAME FILE onto my jetBook. Now I could choose to read my LEGALLY PURCHASED novel from whichever Reader I chose.

As I was reading the novel from my jetBook I encountered what seemed to be a gap in sentence logic, as if the sentence wasn’t written correctly. (Vollmann is somewhat of a Post Modernist writer.) I didn’t think too much about that, but then the next few pages I again encountered the same thing. Now really curious, I bookmarked the page and got out my Kindle 2 and started reading, comparing them side-by-side. It was then, upon reading the novel from the Kindle 2, that I found the missing words. Thinking perhaps I had done something wrong, I deleted the file from my jetBook and then looked at the file again on my computer. The words were there; they were not missing. I then copied this same file back onto the jetBook, and LO! The words were missing.

This is a very big problem that Ectaco needs to address in their updates.

Yes, But Do You Like it?
I fully love my jetBook.
I think the feature set is nicely done and the Reader itself is a joy to hold. It’s feels balanced and comfortable, and does not lose its appeal for long stretches of time while reading. The build quality (with the above-mentioned one exception) is incredible. The variety of file formats is wonderful. I can choose from a wide variety of formats to download. The screen is NOT e-ink; but then again, it was not designed to follow in those footsteps. The screen is really excellent. I highly recommend this unit to any ebook lover who wants variety and an incredible form factor. Too, from reports on MobileRead, the Ectaco people seem very responsive to the needs of their customers. I can highly recommend the jetBook ebook Reader to anyone who wants a primary or secondary Reader to go along with one’s ebook arsenal.


Full Disclosure
I am a Moderator here at MobileRead, but the opinions expressed in this Review are my opinions and not necessarily those of MobileRead. Any errors of fact will be corrected, as needed.

Last edited by Dr. Drib; 08-09-2009 at 05:09 PM. Reason: Edited typos and rewrote a sentence or two
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